In 2001, when Spoon's Girls Can Tell placed just outside the top 40 in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll, music writer Robert Christgau described it in his accompanying essay as "Spoon's career album if you call that a career." It was a dig not only at the band and its low-level career but also at the legions of indie groups with small, loyal audiences and not much chance for popular acceptance.
The past five years could be Spoon's rebuttal to Christgau's remark, with each subsequent album — Kill the Moonlight and Gimme Fiction — more challenging yet more popular than the previous. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga continues this upward trend. It may not be as immediately accessible as Fiction or as endlessly inventive as Moonlight, but the band builds on previous successes by crafting rhythmically intricate songs.
Ga also finds Spoon further entrenched in the studio, which is obvious on songs such as the dub-wise "The Ghost of You Lingers" and the gloriously messy "Eddie's Raga." But every song and sound is precisely calibrated, from the layers of instruments on "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" to the half-buried horns on "The Underdog," courtesy of Jon Brion.
The soul elements may be new, but the subject matter is not: Singer-songwriter Britt Daniel is one of the most carefully self-positioning musicians around, constantly considering and reconsidering his place in the field. Just as previous albums began with screeds about the industry, so too does Ga: "Don't Make Me a Target" sounds more defensive, as if Daniel is shooing away potential detractors.
Songs like "Rhythm & Soul" and "The Underdog" continue to bristle at both the mainstream and the margins: Spoon is too ambitious for indie, too complicated for radio play (although a Top 10 debut for this album might push them toward the latter). Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga ends with the one-two punch of "Finer Feelings" and "Black Like Me," which extend Daniel's musical musings while winding the album down. The former is even a fever dream of local loneliness: "Memphis comes creeping down my back," Daniel begins, then: "They told me to stop scouting the field/They told me have a look in The Commercial Appeal." — Stephen Deusner